Gavin Henson’s hopes of reviving his international career this summer effectively disappeared when he was denied the chance to showcase his talents in front of head coach Warren Gatland and his staff in Friday’s first senior Wales trial match for 14 years.
Gatland has since named a 32-man squad to tour South Africa. It will be captained by lock Alun Wyn Jones and includes four uncapped players: backs Matthew Morgan, Jordan Williams, Steven Shingler and Gareth Davies.
Henson, who last played for Wales just before the 2011 World Cup, missed the trial because Premiership Rugby, the umbrella organisation for England’s top 12 clubs, does not release non-English players for games that fall outside International Rugby Board match windows.
The trial match, in which the Probables crushed the Possibles 55-7, took place outside the window and was not a Test match. Asked if his unavailability had told against the 32-year-old Henson (who was originally named in the Probables squad), head coach Gatland said: “Absolutely it did. We had not seen him play a lot, and he needed to be able to play [on Friday] if he was to be considered. ”
While Henson will ruefully reflect on what might have been, the 22-year-old Morgan forced his way into Gatland’s squad on the strength of a blistering performance as a half-time substitute for the Possibles, thrilling a capacity 20,000 Liberty Stadium crowd with some scintillating touches.
“He went on, the game opened up and he lit the place up,” Gatland added. “He has played a lot at No 10, but we feel full-back gives him a bit more time and space on the ball. You have to exploit the ability he has when the game breaks up.
“You can only pick on what you see. Selection is a matter of opinion, and I have been through that in the last year or so, where people have disagreed with me, and I know how tough it is.
“But he came on and made a big impact. As it was, he was the most dangerous player on the field during that period, so you have got to sit up and take notice. He was one of the last names added to the squad, but he deserved it.”
Several players, including Sam Warburton, Leigh Halfpenny, Scott Williams, Richard Hibbard and Justin Tipuric, will miss the tour because of injury, and Samson Lee, the Scarlets prop, could now join them. Three players exited the trial because of injury: Lee (wrist), centre Jamie Roberts (shoulder) and hooker Ken Owens (knee). Lee’s problem, however, appears the most serious.
Wales fly to South Africa on Thursday. Their opening game is against the Eastern Province Kings in Port Elizabeth on 10 June, while the Springboks await in Durban (14 June) and Nelspruit (21 June).
Wales squad: Forwards: Gethin Jenkins (Cardiff Blues), Paul James (Bath), Adam Jones (Ospreys), Rhodri Jones (Scarlets), Samson Lee (Scarlets), Aaron Jarvis (Ospreys), Ken Owens (Scarlets), Matthew Rees (Cardiff Blues), Scott Baldwin (Ospreys), Alun Wyn Jones (capt, Ospreys), Luke Charteris (Perpignan), Jake Ball (Scarlets), Ian Evans (Ospreys), Aaron Shingler (Scarlets), Josh Turnbull (Scarlets), Dan Lydiate (Racing Metro), Taulupe Faletau (Newport Gwent Dragons), Dan Baker (Ospreys). Backs: Mike Phillips (Racing Metro), Gareth Davies (Scarlets), Rhodri Williams (Scarlets), Dan Biggar (Ospreys), James Hook (Perpignan), Steven Shingler (Scarlets), Jonathan Davies (Scarlets), Jamie Roberts (Racing Metro), Cory Allen (Cardiff Blues), Alex Cuthbert (Cardiff Blues), George North (Northampton Saints), Jordan Williams (Scarlets), Matthew Morgan (Ospreys), Liam Williams (Scarlets).